William Kaefer

Kaefer photo

William Kaefer
US Navy: USS Sabalo (SS- 302),
USS Pintado (SSN- 672)
Vietnam (1966-1970)

William Kaefer was born in Chicago in 1943. He considers himself a “war baby” because he was born during WWII. His dad was a small business owner and his mom was a teacher at the local school. He had an uncle who served in the coast guard in World War II and one cousin who is a year older who served on the USS Enterprise. Before joining he remembers going to movies about the war and such events as the Berlin airlift. Before entering the military he had a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Purdue. 

William served in the Navy on the USS Sabalo and the USS Pintado, but he also had extensive training as a nuclear qualified submarine officer. He enlisted in the navy because at Perdue he was studying nuclear engineering and he saw a correlation between serving his country and getting practical use of his studies. When he enlisted his family was scared and excited. William’s father wanted to serve in WWII but he was unable to due to a medical disability. His mother was a bit more worried but was happy he enlisted in the navy because, “he would have a bed to sleep on and a hot meal every day.” 

William wanted to become an officer so he didn’t attend boot camp in the regular sense. He went to Officer Candidate School or OCS. At OCS, he spent the first few weeks being “hazed” to make sure he and his classmates could handle the pressures of the military, but after that it was a combination of academic classes and physical training. In retrospect William felt that for a 16 week coarse OCS did a great job preparing young men to become officers. “It was exciting, you met a lot of people going through the same experience as yourself, there was a sense of comradely”, said William. During his time at OCS, William applied for the nuclear power program. He applied in his second of four quarters at OCS but never heard back until his fourth quarter. Being one of only three select he was both relived and excited because this was the whole reason he had joined the navy. After OCS he was given six weeks leave, which he used to move and visit his family. 

His first assignment was Nuclear Power School, an all-academic six-month program. At Nuclear Power School he got his first taste of the navy, when he looked around he could see men who were not just young officers but also older men who already had a career at stake. After Nuclear Power School he attended two more schools to become submarine qualified. Then after over 18 months of training he finally reported to his first ship the USS Sabalo. When he arrived on the Sub he was excited and nervous about the road ahead of him. I asked him about the food on a submarine and to my surprise he said that it was, “very good because the navy realized that food was a moral issue, and on our sub the moral was high.” He spent nine months in the Pacific aboard the USS Sabalo. He remembers being on a diesel sub enabled the ship to go to many ports that a nuclear sub was not allowed to. The USS Sabalo went all over the eastern coast of Asia; he even had the chance to work with the Thai Navy. The only injury he ever sustained during his service was a non-service related event. “I was climbing down the after battery hatch and I had a heavy object above me, and I slipped. Luckily I landed on my feet but the heavy object landed on me and left a hematoma, which made my whole entire leg purple,” said William. What ended up happening was a helio came and took him to one of the aircraft carriers, where he was treated for his injury. 

His second deployment was on the USS Pintado, a new nuclear submarine. He only spent a short amount of time on the USS Pintado though because his four-year active duty commitment was up in November 1970. When released to his reserve unit he began his career with PG&E or Pacific Gas and Electric. He was one of twelve engineers to start up a new nuclear plant in San Louis Obispo. 

William partakes in unit reunions. He said that they are sporadic but there have been three so far for the USS Sabalo the biggest reunion in 2007 there were about 100 people there. He is part of now the American Legion in larkspur and is the finance manager for the post. He also belongs to MOAA (Military Officers Association of America). 

Looking back he said that the toughest part of his service was going through Nuclear Power School simply because of the demands. They demanded no less than 100 percent. The scariest moment was when the USS Sabalo’s diesel engines started running while the submarine was submerged. The engine room was evacuated and isolated so the engine would run out of combustion air. The ship made an emergency surface. The entire engine room was totally covered in thick black soot from the diesel exhaust. Luckily, no one was injured. 

One thing he cherished very much, was being bestowed so much responsibility at such a young age. “Only in the military are you given a 200 million dollar submarine a told here you are in charge.” He said, “Freedom isn’t free,” someone has to serve! William Kaefer fulfilled his duty and provided the blanket of freedom we all take pleasure in. 

Interviewed by Robert Kent on July 17th 2011.

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